When the top rungs of your org are a revolving door

Image for post
Image for post

Here’s a generally-pretty-generic article on “What Sales Leaders Need To Excel Over Time” — that article is written somewhere on Earth roughly 14,991 times in a given day, and often called “thought leadership” — but I do want you to pay attention to this paragraph:

One reason the notion of term limits for sales executives isn’t commonly discussed is that generally speaking, sales leaders don’t stay in the job long enough for these situations to arise. Instead, many companies face the opposite problem: managing the high cost of frequent sales leader turnover. When sales executives depart too quickly, their initiatives don’t have enough time to make a significant impact. In addition, the learning curve gets disrupted and the company fails to benefit from the leadership wisdom gained through experience.

Now I want you to consider this: oftentimes, average CMO (marketing) tenure is somewhere between 30 and 48 months, i.e. 2.5 to 4 years.

So, across a half-decade, you might have 3–4 different people rotating in and out of top sales and marketing roles. Marketing is supposed to help sales with message, and sales is supposed to bring in revenue. Hmm. That seems a lot of turnover at the levels where the strategy stuff should be being set. Maybe that’s the issue in reality. Maybe that’s part of the reason nothing ever gets done. Because a lot of this are constantly adjusting to a new leadership style and “direction,” right?

Why does this happen?

A few different reasons, I’d auger:

Can we do anything about it?

Absolutely not. In a free-market capitalism where people need to provide for their families, they will go where the grass is perceived to be greener. There is very little loyalty in business anymore, on either the employee side or the company side.

You see it at some places, yes. It’s not broadly common, no. There’s also limited trust, and especially limited trust in the highest ranks.

Then there’s also the “football coach” problem. In the NFL, once you’ve been a head coach, even if you mostly suck, it’s relatively easy to get those jobs again. Same with Sales VP or CMO jobs. Some other company will come along and give you that title because they assume “Well, he/she did it once! They must know!” It’s pretty sad/pathetic. It’s also very common in business.

So no, we cannot change it at all. People will leave jobs in under 2–3 years, even if they supposedly run the silo’s strategy.

Where does that leave us?

Honestly in many ways, it’s about protecting your own neck and hoping not to get shit-canned or forced out of a place that pays you a salary. That usually means heads down, no fuss, no muss, do the work, don’t pipe up, don’t ever challenge the baseline status quo, etc. If you can get close to the power core in the process, good. But hey, that power core might change within six weeks! No one knows!

(Or everyone knows and no one talks about it.)

But it’s not surprising initiatives are often so flawed at work. We love us some short-term and some “sense of urgency” projects, but building the right team and the right strategy takes time — and it requires people, especially the leadership, to be on the bus for more than six-seven quarters.

Problem is: the flip side is dark

When a senior leadership team stays together for years into decades, that tends to become “homophily.”

That means a lot of them think the same and act the same way, probably in large part because they spend all their time together in revenue meetings.

When all your decision-makers — sorry, that needs to be in quotes, “decision-makers” — think and act the same way, that’s a nice first step in your ass getting disrupted.

So maybe the question is: where’s the sweet spot? You don’t want people leaving at 20 months, but you don’t want them together 12 years. So maybe somewhere around six years and then move to a new role internally or go try out something else? Maybe that would keep things fresh?

There’s no science to this stuff, in reality, because it all involves people and their wants and needs and connection to things, and that’s fraught. But we should at least try to be better than the abject mess we’re often in inside organizations right now.

Written by

Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money: http://thecontextofthings.com/hire-freelance-writer-ted-bauer/

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store